VA-111 Shkval torpedo

EQUIPMENT CATEGORY: Naval Mines/Torpedoes -- Torpedoes
Nuclear/Biological/Chemical -- Nuclear

PICTURES OF: VA-111 Shkval torpedo


The Shkval ("squall") is a high-speed supercavitating rocket-propelled torpedo designed to be a rapid-reaction defense against U.S. submarines undetected by sonar. It can also be used as a countermeasure to an incoming torpedo, forcing the hostile projectile to abruptly change course and possibly break its guidance wires.

The torpedo has a nearly flat, conical disk at its nose that creates the gas cavity for supercavitation. The disk tilts to help guide the weapon and keep it stable. The cavity is supported by rockets venting just abaft the cavitator. Four popout cylinders toward the aft end of the nose section keep the body of the torpedo stable and out of contact with the walls of the bubble in which it rides. At the rear of the torpedo are deflected control surfaces. Eight small rockets surround the main sustainer rocket. The main engine cuts in when the weapon has achieved supercavitation speed.

The solid-rocket propelled torpedo achieves a high velocity of 230 mph (386 kmh) by producing an envelope of supercavitating bubbles from its nose and skin, which coat the entire weapon surface in a thin layer of gas. This causes the metal skin of the weapon to avoid contact with the water, significantly reducing drag and friction.

The Shkval is fired from the standard 533-mm torpedo tube at a depth of up to 328 ft (100 m). The torpedo exits the tube at 50 knots (93 kmh) and then ignites the rocket motor, propelling the weapon to speeds four to five times faster than other conventional torpedoes. The weapon reportedly has an 80 percent kill probability at a range of 7,655 yd (7,000 m).

The torpedo is guided by an autopilot rather than by a homing head as on most torpedoes. The initial version was unguided. However, the Russians have indicated there is a homing version that starts at the higher speed and then slows and enters a search mode.



Development of the Shkval began in 1963 as a point-defense system to counter the threat of nuclear-powered submarines. Trials began in 1964, but the weapon's complexity prevented it from entering service until 1977. At that time, it reportedly equipped ballistic missile submarines as a quick-reaction self-protection weapon against submarines and incoming torpedoes.

The weapon was deployed in the early 1990s, and had been in service for years when its existence was publicly disclosed. In 1995, it was revealed that development had begun in the 1960s, when the Research Institute NII-24, previously involved in artillery ammunition research, was ordered to help develop an underwater high-speed missile to combat nuclear-powered submarines. On May 14, 1969, a government mandate created the Research Institute of Applied Hydromechanics (NII PGM), the predecessor of today's Region Scientific Production Association.

A modernized Shkval was placed on display at the 1995 international armaments show in Abu Dhabi, but it was discarded. Later, an improved model was designed with a conventional warhead and a guided targeting system. The first tests of this "smart" Shkval torpedo were conducted by the Russian Pacific Fleet in early 1998.

The Region Scientific Production Association has developed an export modification of the missile, the Shkval -E. Russia first marketed this conventionally armed version at the IDEX 99 exhibition in Abu Dhabi in early 1999.

Russia reportedly sold China 40 conventionally armed Shkval -Es in 1998.

At the MAKS 2005 exhibition in Zhukovsky, near Moscow, and the 2005 International Naval Defense Exhibition in St. Petersburg, NPO Region began marketing the Shkval -E for the coastal defense role. The system includes a surveillance radar teamed with an electro-optical surveillance system and different types of launchers. The Shkval is launched from surface platforms or underwater installations located at a depth of up to 330 ft (100 m). The weapon is fired from either a torpedo tube or a special container.

In April 2006, Iran announced the successful test of a new high-speed torpedo capable of achieving speeds of up to 225 mph (360 kmh). The new weapon, called the "hoot" or "whale" in Farsi, appears to be a development of the Shkval . Further tests reportedly took place in the summer of 2007.


 Dvigatel Zavod, St. Petersburg, Russia
 Region State Research and Production Enterprise, Moscow, Russia


      submarines           TYPHOON class
                           BOREI class
                           OSCAR II class
                           AKULA class
                           SIERRA II class
                           VICTOR III class


   Total                   5,953 lb    (2,700 kg)
      Shkval-E             460 lb (210 kg)

   Length                  26 ft 11 in (8,200 mm)
   Diameter                 1 ft  9 in (  533 mm)

      Maximum              230 mph (360 kmh, 100 m/sec, 200 kts)
                           Some reports say in excess of 300 mph (483 kmh)
      Exit from tube       50 kts (93 kmh)
   Range                   3.5 nm (4.0 mi,  6.4 km)
         launch            3.8 nm (4.4 mi,  7.0 km)
         cruise            5.4 nm (6.2 mi, 10.0 km)
         minimum           0.3 nm (0.3 mi,  0.5 km)
      launch depth         100 ft (30 m)
      cruise depth          20 ft ( 6 m)
      after-launch turning angle
                           +/-20 deg

         weight            463 lb (210 kg)
         type              TNT
      fuze                 contact/proximity


Shkval High-Speed Underwater Rocket

Original unguided production model. Used a tactical nuclear warhead on a timer to destroy incoming torpedoes and/or the submarine that launched them. This model was deployed in 1977; it could only be fired in a straight line and had a range of about 10 miles (16.2 km).

Improved Shkval

Original model with guided targeting system and a conventional warhead.

Shkval -E

Export variant. This model requires the crew of a submarine or ship to define the target's parameters -- speed, distance and vector. The torpedo must also be fed data for the automatic pilot. This variant does not have a homing warhead and must follow a computer-generated program. Warhead weight is reported to be greater than 462.9 lb (210 kg).

Upgraded Shkval

Russian media revealed that this modernized version was in development. It appeared at an exhibition in St. Petersburg in July 2005. The torpedo is designed for a top speed of 250 mph (400 kmh) and will be able to maneuver pseudo-randomly as it approaches its target. It was projected to have a larger warhead, weighing 770 lb (350 kg).


U.S. intelligence experts call the nuclear-equipped Shkval a "revenge weapon," since it would destroy its target and the submarine that launched it. Russian sources have disagreed with this assessment, saying that the double-hull construction of Soviet-built submarines could withstand the resultant nuclear shockwave.

On April 5, 2000, an American businessman, Edmond Pope, and a Russian colleague were arrested by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) in Moscow. The men were charged with stealing scientific secrets -- specifically information on the Shkval torpedo. Pope, a retired U.S. Navy captain who spent most of his career working in naval intelligence, was then the head of a private security firm. Two weeks after the arrest, the FSB claimed that Pope was seeking plans for the high-speed underwater missile. Pope was arrested making an informal contact with one of the Russian scientists who helped to create the torpedo.

Pope spent eight months in the Russian Lefortovo prison awaiting trial. He was convicted of espionage and sentenced to 20 years. On Dec. 14, 2000, Russian President Vladimir Putin pardoned Pope on humanitarian grounds, because the American was suffering from bone cancer.

Pope was in Russia as a businessman to purchase Russian technology when he apparently ran afoul of a Canadian intelligence operation intent on purchasing the Shkval torpedoes, according to U.S. intelligence sources.

Despite the novelty of the supercavitation system, the Shkval has significant shortcomings. It has a very short range compared to standard torpedoes; unguided variants must travel in a straight line, making effective targeting very difficult. Secondly, because sound travels much faster under water, it is thought that the Shkval would be highly detectable upon launch. Later versions with guidance and homing systems that require the torpedo to slow down to be able to operate are vulnerable to the same countermeasures as standard torpedoes, thus eliminating the weapon's one advantage. According to some reports, Russia is experimenting with a wire-guidance system for the weapon, but this is a project fraught with difficulties.


Unconfirmed reports suggested that a VA-111 Shkval was on the Russian submarine KURSK when an explosion sent it to the sea bottom in October 2000. Another unconfirmed report also speculated that a torpedo onboard the KURSK was being prepared for launch when the explosion occurred.

LATEST UPDATE: 1 December 2011